By Brett Stolpestad
The impact of bees on agriculture, ecosystems and the environment as a whole is a topic with ever-increasing importance. Honeybees are master pollinators and we heavily depend on them to pollinate our crops. In fact, honeybees – along with other pollinators – were responsible for the pollination of nearly one-third (close to $19 billion dollars) of U.S. crops in 2010. Without honeybees, it would be extremely difficult to produce many different kinds of crops including apples, oranges, lemons, broccoli, onions, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, cantaloupes, carrots, avocados and almonds.
Honeybees are needed now more than ever as the pressure to feed our growing population increases. However, the total number of honeybee colonies has dropped dramatically over the past few decades due to habitat loss, pesticide and insecticide use and several other factors. The decline poses a huge problem for agriculture production, the economy and, ultimately, our ability to feed the global population.
Problems associated with the decline of bee colonies have spurred many governments, interest groups, nonprofits and advocacy organizations into action. Here in Minnesota, bee education and advocacy organization Pollinate Minnesota has partnered with educators to engage local youth and teach them about the importance of honeybees. On August 4, the Saint Paul summer youth program EcoRangers, along with the Restoring Relations crew from Conservation Corps, had the opportunity to join executive director and founder of Pollinate Minnesota, Erin Rupp, at Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary for a honeybee education day.
Gathered by the restored prairie, with the Saint Paul skyline just across the river, Erin gave a fascinating lecture on the importance of honeybees, reasons for their decline and ways we can help reverse or at least slow their disappearance. I learned a lot from her lecture, but as the old cliché dictates, “the best way to learn is by doing,” so it was time to put on the bee suits! Once everyone had donned the all-white suits we walked into the nature sanctuary to a small gated area where two bee boxes had been built.
We all crammed comfortably in as bees started to fly around us in number. Erin walked over to one of the boxes and lifted the lid, revealing several screens patterned with the distinctive hexagonal hive structure. She pulled the screens out, one-by-one, occasionally pointing to a drone and even the queen amongst the numerous workers. It was incredible to see the inside of the hive and the different processes that take place within it. We were able to see honey being produced and we even had the chance to see a few bees hatch! When the hive tour concluded, we all had the chance to try several kinds of honey unique to different hives and different flowers.
The hive tour at Bruce Vento was an unforgettable experience. I have certainly learned to love our pollinators!